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Friday, February 10, 2012


After the first episode eased us back into the world of Spartacus,
familiarising us with the new status quo for the escaped slaves, this episode
gets the story moving again. Attacks on Roman villas, the execution of
Spartacus' new philosophy and - most enjoyably - more time spent fleshing out

Indeed, the main thread of the episode (as alluded
to in the title) asks what a slave should when his master disappears. In the
case of Oenomaus, the answer is to return to the pit and wait for death. In the
case of Tiberius, it is to search for a new cause. Neither appears to fully
succeed, but the seeds of drama planted here will grow into mighty plots. Will
Oenomaus get his purpose back? Has Tiberius found his own, or is he just
pretending? These are questions we want to see answered.

Fight-wise, it's always good to see Oenomaus in
action, particularly while he's in such a dark place. It's also good to see The
Pit return, used to such great effect, when its creation seemed to serve a
single purpose in the first season - although I have to admit, I'm missing the
fun of the arena match-ups where the focus was on two men in stupid armour
working out their 'backstage' issues. Don't get me wrong, I like having Crixus
and Spartacus be pals - but it'd be a shame if they never got to fight again.

Of course, the change in inter-character dynamics
doesn't damage the series too badly. The absence of John Hannah as Batiatus,
however, is a bit more of a problem. Batiatus was self-important, cowardly,
borderline incompetent and yet, even as we watched Spartacus (and others)
defeat his plans over and over, there was part of us that wanted him to
succeed. As many feared, there's now a giant hole where his character should be,
and not just because he swore better than anyone else in the series. Indeed, it
seems that this episode's search for purpose may have a more meta-textual vibe
than first imagined. Where do you go when you've killed off a main character
that prominent?

There are contenders for the crown of series
villain, of course. They're just not particularly strong. Glaber, the supposed
antagonist, is a charisma-free zone with no discernible personality. Ilithyia
is more interested in protecting herself than stopping Spartacus. And while the
return of Ashur makes for an interesting narrative twist, it's clear that
Lucretia is the only one with enough presence to be the series villain, and
she's still acting the loon (although hopefully not for too much longer, given the
episode's end.)

The further developing romance plots are a bit
more prominent this series, not just because the rebellion's actions are
currently fuelled by the search for Naevia, but because Mira is becoming a more
prominent character. Her increasingly kick-ass disposition feels a little
unearned, but in a series keen to objectify women it certainly helps its
credibility to have a female character around who isn't bitchy, insane, or, er,
taking things lying down. It's interesting how Ilithyia's feelings towards
Spartacus have clearly changed, however - things get slightly weird as her hate
turns to something more primal. Can't wait to see what Glaber thinks of that...

With a strong thematic centre spread over multiple character
threads and a twist ending that promises a quick pace for the
series, this may well have been one of the most well-written Spartacus episodes
ever. Not bad going for a series which started out as an unashamedly ridiculous
piece of exploitation television.



Domestic Total as of Feb. 5, 2012: $20,874,072

Distributor: CBS Films

Release Date:February 3, 2012

Genre: Horror Thriller

Runtime: 1 hrs. 35 min.

MPAA Rating: PG-13

Production Budget: N/A

Deadened with grief four years after the death
of his wife, Arthur is dispatched to a remote English village to sort out a
deceased woman's estate. There, in his own melancholy, the lawyer barely
notices how fear has warped the secretive residents of the village, all of whom
know and none of whom will tell an outsider what ails them. (Ciarán Hinds
and Albert Nobbs Oscar nominee Janet McTeer have fun playing the
village's wealthiest residents, the only two who provide hospitality.) Arthur
does, at least, begin to wonder about the unusual death rate of village
children. Oh, if ghosts could talk! Instead, this inconsolable spirit makes her
feelings known through more ghoulish means.

What's Good About the
classically creepy, unironic tale of loss and vengeance, based on Susan Hill's
popular 1983 novel of the same name, pays fair homage to the kind of fare that
has long been the specialty of the recently revived British company Hammer
Films, where Christopher Lee once reigned as Count Dracula and Peter Cushing
personified Baron Frankenstein. The downside is, The Woman in Black devotes
an awful lot of time to the sight of Daniel Radcliffe, playing a sad,
frock-coated lawyer named Arthur Kipps, creeping anxiously through that haunted
house, clutching a candle and an axe, getting nowhere.

What's Bad About
the Movie:
The Woman in Black embraces the elements of gothic horror movies
with pleasing seriousness: If there's a door handle to rattle or floorboard to
creak in the ruined mansion at the heart of the story's trouble, this
production pauses for the sight and sound. And gray English skies with a
likelihood of thick English mist is the unchanging weather forecast

Grade: B


After a pair of well-written but very slow-paced opening
episodes, Spartacus: Vengeance finally feels like a series
that has found its feet, finally delivering the same urgency and passion that
made its predecessors so gripping.

The focus on Crixus certainly helped, as his relationship
with Naevia was one of the series' more believable and thus deserves the
prestigious, plot-driving position it has been afforded. For that reason, it's
a shame that Naevia was re-cast, but let's face it: the series has dealt with
bigger problems than that. Although the battles in the last two episodes looked
cool and inventive, they didn't stir the audience's passion like those in this
one, perhaps because this time a plot resolution seemed certain. We were not

If you wanted to criticise anything, it could be that Crixus
was too quick to believe Naevia's (alleged) death. Or that Agron's betrayal was
revealed too quickly. But in story terms, they made so much sense that
stringing them out over several episodes would have felt like a cheap attempt
to disguise a lack of ideas. The first series ended up feeling padded as a
result of such delayed gratification, but ifVengeance continues in
this manner, cramming three episodes of story into a single hour, that won't be
a problem.

The episode's sub-plot was also the strongest yet, as Ashur's
return fills the charisma void left by Batiatus' departure. He may be smarter
than Batiatus, but he's twice as cowardly. We may not root for him on any level
as we did his departed master, but we love his failures almost as much as we
enjoy hating his successes. It's inconceivable that Ashur will make it out of
this series alive, but from this episode's events it's clear his death is going
to be well-earned.

By comparison, Spartacus himself takes almost a back seat
throughout the events of this story. He delivers some speeches, gives Crixus a
sounding board, and spends lots of time reminding people what their mission
statement is, a bit like a corporate intranet with a sword. But let's face it -
he was never the most interesting personality in the series, just the most hard
done by. This series, there's more than enough hurt to go around.

Speaking of which, Oenomaus continues to be pummelled - and
this time it's in spirit as much as body. Lucretia may still be two shields
short of a legion, but she's still scheming, and more than capable of pushing
the buttons of her former employees. Of course, with Gannicus' inevitable
return still on the cards, you don't have to be a rocket scientist to guess where
Oenomaus will find some new motivation.

The re-population of the cast with B and C listers continues
apace, too. So far, heading up the live of favourites is Nasir, a Syrian who
gets to play hero after a dramatic entrance in the previous episode, and Seppia,
the only character in the series capable of out-bitching Ilithyia. Mira's
ascent still feels a little sudden, but it's clear that they haven't set out to
turn her into Ripley overnight, and her continuing arc might just win us over

Glaber, meanwhile, is fleshed out a little more with some
more explicitly realised political aspirations reminiscent of Batiatus, but the
man still has all the personality of a plank of wood. Yes, we had a good laugh
at him being too stressed to concentrate on the, er, task at hand - but other
than that, his presence as a villain is more than eclipsed by the
Ashur-Lucretia pairing.

Anyway - with a strong cliffhanger and actual plot
developments taking place, this episode was the first to feel like something
from the previous series. It took a while to get there, but it looks like it
was worth the wait.



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